Community season 5 episodes 1 & 2 review: Repilot & Introduction To Teaching

Review Juliette Harrisson 3 Jan 2014 - 12:37

Community is back with Dan Harmon at the helm. Juliette checks out season five's opening double-bill...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 Repilot & 5.2 Introduction To Teaching 

Previously behind the scenes at Community: creator Dan Harmon and regular Chevy Chase fell out spectacularly, Harmon was fired, a shortened season four went out without him, Chase left before filming was finished, despite one or two decent episodes season four was critically panned, then to everyone’s complete shock an equally short season five without Chase was ordered, Dan Harmon was re-hired and there was much rejoicing, it was announced that Donald Glover would only appear in less than half the season, and everyone was sad again. Phew.

There is a general consensus that the rot set in for Community during the universally derided season four, but there’s a case to be made that the shark hove into view even during the Harmon-produced season three. Community made its name through spectacular concept episodes, mostly parodies of other genres, like Modern Warfare, Epidemiology and A Fistful of Paintballs. But as ever, too much of a good thing becomes simply too much. The show has never taken place in the world we actually live in (what sitcom does?) but as ex-Spanish teachers turned security guards took over Greendale, the Dean was kept in a basement for months and for a few brief minutes our heroes were actually convinced they’d hallucinated the entire school, reality started to slip further and further away. Season four took that to extremes – we’ll pass over Hunger Games re-enactments, Changnesia and bondage fun with the History professor as swiftly as this ‘re-Pilot’ does.

Harmon, back at the reins, has wisely decided to re-set the show by going to back to season one and working out what made us love it in the first place. And he’s decided to do it by almost literally re-enacting the pilot. When Jeff discovers that the Dean is as corrupt as Evil Alan the lawyer assumed, the notion that Greendale is a magical place that heals all ills is swiftly undercut, to be replaced by the status it held in early episodes as the last resort of those who’ve screwed up. And so, once again, Jeff creates a group that’s a lie to help himself out, Abed invites himself to it, and then Abed calls everyone else. Abed talks in seasons, actually uses the word ‘re-Pilot’, references Scrubs season nine, and points out that 555 numbers are fake. Meanwhile, the characters’ lives have re-set themselves too. Annie is once again involved with drugs, Britta is involved with alcohol, Abed has forgotten how to interact with people and most tellingly, Andre has left Shirley again.

(We’re not sure what’s going on with Troy. We’re assuming this will be addressed at some point before Glover leaves).

This is all such an obvious re-booting of the show by repeating the original pilot that it shouldn’t work. And yet… it does. Our heroes may have become a little stuck on repeat, but they’ve done so in a way that feels true to their characters and the show benefits from a return to its roots. They have also changed and moved on in some ways, even if they’ve gone backwards in others and everyone is really trying to get out of the cycle of misery they’ve fallen into. Most importantly, although Jeff’s attempt to be a good guy didn’t go so well, he still refers to the study group as the only people he cares about, even if he also wants to use them to further his career. He may be back at Greendale, but this is a very different Jeff to the cold man we met in season one. Ultimately, this is a show built on trying to make something out of failure, and returning to that central theme makes it feel like something we can care about again.

Of course, there’s a Pierce-shaped hole in the table during the first episode that feels surprisingly empty. We know of old that if Community can find something awkward and uncomfortable and hang a huge lampshade on it, it absolutely will do so, and it seemed that a reference to how things don’t feel the same without Magnitude (alongside Glover amiably playing along and loudly criticising Zach Braff for failing to appear in all of season nine of Scrubs) was the light being shone on this particular issue. We surprised ourselves with how pleased we were that it wasn’t. Pierce may not have been anyone’s favourite character, but he really did bring something to the show; we’re glad he got a proper goodbye.

The second episode continues the good work of the first. There were plenty of familiar faces to reassure us we were still at the same Greendale, but the story was once again rooted in character. It was also rooted in sitcom reality. In real reality, you can’t get a job teaching at a community college just because you happen to work in the field – as Jeff discovers when faced with a barrage of questions about the curriculum, the assessment, grading etc., there’s rather more to it than that and generally, teaching experience is required. But this is nothing other sitcoms haven’t done before (How I Met Your Mother is probably the most blatant recent offender; we’ll assume that Ross from Friends got teaching experience during his PhD). Considering this is Greendale, a college that has hired Chang as a teacher twice, this is nothing out of the ordinary. A riot is perhaps not the way most students would react to discovering corruption among the teaching staff (ironically, they’re much more likely to sue) but it is absolutely the way Greendale students would react. This isn’t reality, exactly, but it’s something recognisably related to it in a way that some of seasons three and four weren’t.

The parodies that Community became known for start to reappear in this second episode, but in a controlled, logical way. Abed, taking a class on Nicholas Cage from Kevin Corrigan’s very welcome returning drama professor Sean Garrity, starts taking on characteristics of Cage’s performances. It’s small, focused and vaguely sitcom-logical, carried mostly through Danny Pudi’s performance with just a little help from the set. This is the way to do parody without descending into madness.

This second episode also introduces a character who appears to be replacing Pierce, at least to the extent that he’s sitting in Pierce’s seat in the ‘Save Greendale’ committee that has replaced the study group now that Jeff’s a teacher. It’s a shame this had to be a new character in a way, as the role of embittered, corrupt teacher might have been so beautifully filled by John Oliver’s long-disappeared Professor Duncan, but Jonathan Banks’ Professor Hickey fits in well enough among Greendale’s perennially tragic cast. Since he only joins the Table Mark II in the last few minutes, we’ll have to wait and see how well he fits in with the rest of the group.

We’re sure there are spectacular parodies and concept episodes in Community’s (possibly short) future, but these two episodes tethered us back to reality by reminding us that at its heart, the series is about these characters that we’ve grown to love. Community will always be a show with its head in the clouds, but finally, thankfully, its feet seem to be back on the ground.

Read our review of the previous episode, Advanced Introduction To Finality, here.

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Really loved these two episodes, laugh out loud funny and worthy of season 1 & 2 fame.

In particular Jeff and the Dean's conversation "i can't offer you money but! i can offer you a job" "you just described slavery..." gold.

That 'rot' episode where they are convinced the whole school is in there heads is one of the best they ever did, the heist episode not far behind it...?

I can't tell if I'm just glad to see it back at its best after S4, but I loved these episodes, and I think the second might be one of the best they've ever done. So much to laugh about- Professor Hickey, Abed's Cage meltdown, the Dean's beautifully weird French thoughts about Excel... six seasons and a movie, bitches!

Did anyone else notice Troy and Abed's room in the apartment? It looks like it's now made of pillows instead of blankets.

Agreed - it seems like its become fashionable to slag off season 3 or imply that it was already going downhill before season 4 began. But while s3 wasn't up to the (insanely high) standard of season 2 and there are some RELATIVELY weak episodes early on, it was still superb and endlessly rewatchable, especially next to season 4 which I found utterly dire and unwatchable.

Annie's moving day with the Kiss From a Rose karaoke, the chaos theory yatzhee game, Chang's Private Eye breakdown, the Civil War documentary, the Christmas episode with the Jehovas Witness rap and 'Baby Boomer Santa', the Hearts of Darkness spoof, the videogame episode - those are some of my favourite ever episodes of Community and all were in season 3!

What an excellent return. After series 3 & 4 I was very reluctant of "6 seasons and a movie" but if they can keep the standard this high then I would relish it.

Also as a huge Mike fan it was wonderful to see Jonathan Banks as (what I assume to be) Pierce's replacement. I think although we'll all miss Pierce in a way Professor Hickey seems to be the perfect way to move forward.

Can't wait to see the new eps for myself. I'm trying to not get my hopes up too high as when something has such a devoted following there's always a vocal minority who can't judge things subjectively and immediately proclaim each new instalment to be the BEST THING EVAR.

But whatever happens, there's no way it won't be a huge improvement over the terrible embarrassment that was season 4.

Season 3 really doesn't deserve to be grouped together with 4 like that. Even if you didn't like s3, it's a bump in the road whereas s4 was a crater.

First off, I didn't expect to miss Pierce as he was my least favourite of the Greendale 7. Oh how wrong was I.
Season 4 wasn't the best, but I enjoyed it. However, these two episodes just blew the whole season away. You can tell Dan is back, and it feels good. I rather liked the "gas leak" explanation of season 4.
It's a shame we only have 13 episodes though, hopefully it gets a full season for season 6.

"...universally derided season four..."

Yeah not by me, I thought it was perfectly fine with the exception of a couple of episodes and series three was brilliant. Neither matches the first two but few things could.

No that's true, although season 3 was still a considerable step down from the quality of the first two, so it made me consider exactly how long I wanted to keep watching, which was then followed by season 4 which just felt like the penultimate nail in the coffin.

That said, doesn't season 3 contain the multiple timelines episode? That must be my favourite Community episode.

Yeah. It does have some superb episodes, including the Chaos Theory one you mention.

If I were to rank them I'd peg the peerless season 2 10/10 with maybe 3 and 1 getting a 9.5 each (comparatively season 4 would be a 3/10).

I can see why some people didn't enjoy s3 quite so much, as it does get very weird at points, but I still think it gets a bad rap all things considered, and I think if anything people might have rose-tinted spectacles about season 1, which is very good but somewhat patchy, especially in its early episodes when the show is still finding its feet. Overall I prefer 3 to 1.

Any idea where I can watch the new episodes in the UK? They're not on the i-tunes store yet.

Season 3 was extremely funny and creative. S4 wasn't. That's the difference.

Awesome first 2 episodes dealing with the circumstances in a perfect, subtle, organic while at the same time succeeds in telling a clear story and being funny. Jonatham Banks' character is great imo.

I agree.

Yes, I agree with you. It seems that some people think that the main problem with S4 was, that it was crazy. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that it wasn't funny, didn't tell a good story, wasn't creative and didn't get the characters.

What a relief: Community is back to its old self after the pale imitation that was Season 4. I laughed more during these two episodes than I did during the whole of the last season. Welcome back, Dan, we missed you.

it's not season 3 was bad, the first 3 quarters were up with season 2, just the last quarter went too far into insanity and I really didn't like the Chang takeover. season 4 was just meh, all surface and no empathy. the first episode of season 5 and you were already feeling for the characters again. If you won't cry with the characters then you won't laugh with them and that was the biggest thing season five has got right straight away

Precisely. I would have been more than happy for the new showrunners to do something different with the show, but it just wasn't funny. I didn't laugh once in the whole season.

Hold on, I don't know where all the anti-season 3 stuff has come from. I thought it was generally agreed that the first couple of episodes were a bit lacking until Chaos Theory arrived and gave the season a kick up the backside which booted it up into gold....
I'm sorry if that sounded sarcastic. I really mean it. I love season 3, partly because it slows down at the right moments early on before going all out towards the end...

But anyway yes, I can't wait for more season 5, please NBC, do the right thing and give Community's final 2 seasons full episode orders....what else are you gonna put your money into?

From the moment it started, you knew it was back...

Watched these last night and they made me unbelievably happy. That indefinable Harmon magic is back, plus Banks' character is wonderful. Clearly paying on his notoriety as Mike from Breaking Bad. His line about drawing duck bills was my favourite of the two episodes.

I'm glad it's not just me that thought the Chang-takeover episodes were weak. It reminded me of some of the later Simpsons episodes which took the characters too far out of the 'reality' of the show. I think the last couple of episodes of Season 3 picked things up again, but there were some dodgy moments before that.

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